AUSTIN (KXAN) — He was cut four times before making Team USA, but now Jeff Butler is getting ready to play on the world stage for the Paralympics. The former Longhorn got his first taste of wheelchair rugby 11 years ago.
“I saw the contact of rugby and the physicality, and that’s what really drew me in,” said Butler. “A lot of training and grind. But those moments when you’re actually playing, it’s incredible.“
Butler says the game has few similarities to traditional rugby. They play four on four on a basketball court, and he describes it as a mix between rugby, soccer and basketball. The game is full contact, and it isn’t uncommon for players to get knocked out of their chair during a game.
“Definitely a defining moment in my life,” said Jeff, reflecting on making the team. “Being selected, finding out you’re one of the 12 going down and representing our country, and seeing team USA on your chest is awesome. It’s an honor.”
Butler was paralyzed in a car accident at the age of 13. After the accident, his goal was to walk again. But wheelchair rugby opened the doors to a whole new world of goals.
“Your life’s not over when you’re in a chair. You just kind of get over it and move on, and rugby helped me do that.”
His coach, James Gumbert, is no stranger to the Paralympic world stage. The Rio games will be his fifth time coaching.
“Sport changes lives, but adaptive sport gives these guys and gals who play our sport the opportunity to reclaim their lives on so many different levels,” said Gumbert. “Being able to be the coach, and being able to move the chest pieces around is extremely gratifying and an incredible honor.”
With the Paralympics getting a record 66.5 hours of television coverage this year, Gumbert hopes his team will show the world what the sport is made of.
“I often tell people if we do our job right, at the end of the day they see the chair as a way to play our sport, not just that the guys playing it are confined to it,” said Coach Gumbert.
Butler hopes the world will see his team for who they are – athletes.
“A lot of times we get coverage because we are disabled athletes, but it’s because we’re disabled athletes. What this coverage will show is there’s really impressive sport behind our stories.”
They say the only colors on their minds right now is red, white blue – and gold.
“The only way I think we leave without having regrets is to leave with a gold medal around our necks,” said Butler.
For more information on wheelchair rugby in the country click here.
And follow the team’s Paralympic schedule here.